Powered by Benett, Arnold Hits Its Stride

On the global CEO's watch, agency yields buzz and solid growth

Whether opening a new overseas office, meeting with CMOs or pitching an account, Arnold global CEO Andrew Benett shifts gears and multitasks with ease, often at a relentless pace. Even in casual conversation, he’s intense, focused. “Every word is purposeful,” said Con Williamson, a former colleague and chief creative officer at Saatchi & Saatchi New York.

As Benett himself put it, only half jokingly, “I have ADD, so maybe biometrically, I’m impatient.”

Since Benett joined Arnold in January 2010 from Euro RSCG, the Havas agency’s revenue has grown 32 percent to an estimated $310 million, with about 80 percent of the growth coming from new accounts, including Dell, CVS, Alberto Culver, Aetna and New Balance. The shop has expanded to four overseas cities (Amsterdam, Sydney, Shanghai and Sao Paulo), and its work for Jack Daniel’s, Carnival Cruise Lines and Progressive has generated buzz and industry recognition.

On the second anniversary of taking the reins, Benett clearly has plenty to be proud of and, like any agency, more to prove. The shop has fallen short in some bigger reviews, such as United Continental last year. “They need to win a big one to really break through,” an agency search consultant noted.

That said, Arnold has momentum and a currency that it lacked under Benett’s predecessor, Fran Kelly. Other consultants credit Benett—a strategic planner who previously held top posts at Euro RSCG and FutureBrand—and the digital and creative talent that his agency has added on his watch.

Looking back on the two years, Benett is most satisfied with “having the company feel vibrant again.” He credits his staffers, adding, “The pace has intensified.”

The 40-year-old Georgetown graduate also has raised his profile by speaking out about larger industry issues, such as the lack of training at ad agencies. During a 4A’s conference presentation last spring, Benett pointed out that a Starbucks barista gets more training than an average agency staffer. The CEOs of WPP, IPG and Omnicom acknowledged the talent retention problem at the conference a day later.

The 4A’s speech was rooted in research, which comes naturally to a brand planner whose first boss—Peter Kim at McCann Erickson—taught him that no great insights come easily.

Benett, who’s also chief strategy officer for Havas, still thinks like a planner and, like Kim, keeps a hand in the work.

The son of an entrepreneur (dad) and artist (mom), Benett grew up on New York’s Upper East Side. He got into advertising simply because a friend of a friend worked at McCann Amsterdam. Eighteen years later, he’s still fascinated by the challenge of unlocking what drives human behavior.

“He’s not an imperial CEO. He’s heavily involved in the business,” said Russel Wohlwerth of External View Consulting Group in Culver City, Calif. “He is jet fuel for that agency.”